Benny McClenahan arrived always with four girls. They were never quite the same ones in physical person, but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before.

A part of a paragraph from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In physical person, is this a variant of in person? And were in the physical sense used instead, what would be the difference?

1 Answer 1


I believe it has nothing to do with the phrase in person, which means that an interaction will happen in the presence of other people. This is in contrast with talking over the phone, et cetera.

Instead, I think he's referring to their physical appearance. He seems to be saying, they were never quite the same in appearance, but they were identical in all other ways.

That's just from a grammatical point of view. From a literary point of view, it's interesting, too. Usually we try to look past appearances to see the person underneath. But here, ironically, he has nothing else to look at than their appearances for proof that they are different people.

  • 1
    I don't think that's quite it. I read it as meaning that they were 'quite the same in appearance', but nevertheless were different individuals.
    – Spagirl
    Nov 28, 2016 at 12:05
  • @Spagirl Interesting. What might you think physical person refers to, then? I personally could read it as saying, Some were tall, some were short, some were blonde, some brunette, but nonetheless, they were really all the same.
    – ktm5124
    Nov 28, 2016 at 16:30
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    I think that in this instance 'same ones in physical person' means 'same individuals/people'. "They were never quite the same individuals, but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before." he always had four girls who looked so alike that it seemed they had been there before.
    – Spagirl
    Nov 28, 2016 at 17:14
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    I think it's worth asking—To Nick, what makes people seem identical? I wonder if one could take this question as a starting point, and then try to figure out what he means in this sentence. (I would be inclined to say that to him, qualities like status, class, residence and family are what make people seem identical, such as the old wealth he encounters.)
    – ktm5124
    Nov 28, 2016 at 17:25

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